Behind the Pen: Meet Book of the Year Award Winner Tammy Letherer

Interview by Meryl D'Sa

Winner of the Award for Indie Nonfiction

Tammy Letherer, the 9th Annual CWA Book of the Year winner for Indie Nonfiction, discusses the struggle and trials that come with writing and publishing a memoir. Her belief is that to be a writer, one must just write and not wait for the right time or circumstances. Writing and journaling and having constant practice makes you a writer.

Q: What is your writing process? Would you say your writing process has evolved over time? If so, how?
A: I’ve been writing, in one form or another, for more than thirty years and in some ways my process has evolved, but in other ways I still struggle with the same challenges. I never “arrive” at the perfect writing life that I imagine, and finding writing time is a continuous challenge, but I do feel that I’m more efficient when I sit down to write than I was in my earlier years.  

Q: Do you have a routine in place or is it random?
A: I start with a routine and the best intentions, but life has a way of pushing that into the random category. This year I’ve had success with putting aside an hour from 8:00 - 9:00 am. I get my kids off to school and then resist the urge to check any email or social media until I’ve put in my hour. 

Q: How do you handle writer’s block?
A: I’ve stopped fighting it. I don’t enjoy creating chaos on the page or churning out chapters if I don’t have the key elements figured out. So when I’m blocked, I either work on “left-brain” tasks like editing or research or I take a break and go back to the basics. If I’m working on fiction, I ask myself what’s gone wrong with the character’s want/obstacle/action. If I’m writing a blog, I try to clarify what my real message is. My blocks are usually a result of not truly understanding what I want to say, or in the case of my characters, not going deep enough to understand their real motivations. So I may write less, but I think more!

Q: What advice would you give to any new aspiring writer? What do you want them to know that you wish you had known when you began your journey?
A: I would say start now, wherever you are. Baby steps will get you where you want to be. I was a journalism major, then a professional writer, and quickly developed the habit of thinking that writing for others was “legitimate” and that my writing was just “for fun.” I wish I had given myself permission to write what I wanted from the beginning. 

A: It’s too easy to procrastinate and feel like an imposter. But the only qualification you need to be a writer is to write. Don’t keep talking about it or wait until you learn more or circumstances line up perfectly. Just write. That’s the only way to become a better writer.

Q: Do you have an all-time favorite book that you just can’t forget about?
A: There were books I read when I was young that made me realize I wanted to write. One was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett because I was completely swept up in that strange and mysterious world. Later I read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and was astounded by his storytelling ability. I can’t say that one is necessarily an all-time favorite because of the horrifying subject, but it was definitely the book that got me fired up about writing. 

Q: Tell us about the process of writing, developing, and publishing of The Buddha? How did it start and how did it grow?
A: I began journaling about the events that would later become my memoir as they were unfolding, so writing the first draft later was a matter of building on those facts and memories. I wanted the book to be written as much as possible in “real time” so the reader would be right there with me. The challenge was to fully put myself back in those painful moments in order to capture that immediacy. Because of that, it was a long process---nearly eight years from start to finish. 
Once I had my first draft, I worked for a month with a story coach to be sure I had a complete journey. She helped me see that I had ended the book too early, and I needed to get into some things I was still living, things I wanted to avoid. I quickly learned that a successful memoir doesn’t allow for glossing over! I had to be willing to look at everything and face the fears that came with that. Developing the book became more about a process than a product. 
That’s not to say that having that final product in the form of a published book hasn’t been satisfying! But the publishing part of the journey was challenging in different ways. I spent a year submitting to agents and publishers and after contacting nearly 100 of them I got an offer from She Writes Press. The next eighteen months were spent on cover design and publicity and all the fun, exciting stuff that comes with a book launch. 

Q: What are some important themes/messages you want readers to take away from this book?
A: My greatest wish is that those who read my memoir and are facing some kind of life event that has knocked them to their knees will know that they’re not alone. I hope they’ll see that my path to peace came when I was able to interpret events in my favor and let go of the idea that life was happening to me. There really is a silver lining at the end of it all.

Bio: Tammy Letherer is an author, writing coach, and blogger. She holds a degree in Journalism from Indiana University and has enjoyed a long and varied professional writing career. In addition to The Buddha at My Table, Tammy is also the author of the novel, Hello Loved Ones and the children’s book, My Health is in My Hands. She lives in Chicago with her three children. The Buddha at My Table has been selected as the Gold Medal winner in the Living Now “Books for Better Living” award, the Gold Medal winner in the Human Relations Indie Book Awards, and as a finalist in both the 2018 Best Book Awards and the 2018 National Indie Excellence Awards.
You can read Tammy’s blogs on the Huffington Post or learn more about her work at Sign up to receive Tammy’s “Hello Loved Ones” newsletter, where she writes about writing, creativity, spirituality, and inspiration.
You can find Tammy on her website or on social media on Twitter @TLetherer or on Facebook.

Join Chicago Writers Association in celebrating the best of 2019 literature at the 9th Annual CWA Book of the Year Awards ceremony. Hosted by the Book Cellar in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, enjoy book browsing, cocktails and fellowship, as well as readings from this year’s winners and a presentation of our Spirit Award. This event is free and open to the public.

Share Facebook   Share on Twitter

Back to Write City Blog